County to appeal to ombudsman on OPP billing
By Chad Ingram
Published April 13, 2016
Haliburton County will lodge a complaint with the Ontario Ombudsman regarding the OPP billing formula, asking the ombudsman's office to review the billing framework that came into effect last year.
“I'm suggesting that we reach out to the ombudsman,” said Dysart et al Reeve Murray Fearrey during a special county council meeting April 13. “That's their responsibility, to capture complaints about Ontario government services and police is an Ontario government service. I think there's a case to be made.”
Municipalities first found out about a new OPP billing system in late 2013, one that would redistribute total OPP costs on a per household basis throughout the province. Because seasonal residences qualify as households, cottage communities such as the county's four lower-tier townships are watching their OPP bills skyrocket during a five-year phase-in period that began in 2015.
The county's collective policing bill will double from about $3 million to more than $6 million during the phase-in.
County council rallied against the formula in 2014, meeting with ministers to explain what they believed were the formula's many flaws. It weights commercial properties evenly with residential ones, for example.
“If a bar in one of the cities is one household and we've got one cottager that's up here for 60 days of the year and they're paying at the same rate . . . that's unfair,” Fearrey said Wednesday. “It's unfair that large commercial facilities are one unit.”
Fearrey also said if the province would provide the statistics, he's confident the county could demonstrate that seasonal residents generate very few calls for service.
County chief administrative officer Mike Rutter said he thought there was merit in making a submission to the ombudsman's office and that he believes the formula has flaws.
Rutter said that Frontenac Islands Township is being billed for the OPP to look after windmills.
“A wind turbine is being taxed as if it was a household,” he said. “There are a lot of things systematically wrong with the billing formula and I think a lot of municipalities would support that.”
Councillors discussed other options, such as the creation of a local municipal police force or contracting the services of a contiguous municipal force, as permitted under the Police Services Act.
The county could approach the City of Kawartha Lakes, for example, about using its force.
However, since the formula was announced, a number of municipalities have conducted feasibility studies on creating their own forces or partnering with contiguous ones and Rutter told council in many cases, those studies have shown little if any cost savings.
“Even in cases where they have partnered with other townships, the cost per household is almost the same as the OPP,” Rutter said.
While the thought is often that municipal forces give municipalities control over wages – which constitute approximately 85 per cent of OPP costs - “we live in a world of interest arbitration,” Rutter said, explaining that before long, municipal officers would want similar paycheques to other police officers in the province.
“All that arbitrators look at is what other people in similar positions are getting paid,” Rutter continued, adding they don't consider factors such as call volumes or a municipality's ability to pay, as the county had recently seen with its paramedics.
Algonquin Highlands Reeve and County Warden Carol Moffatt agreed that if creating a municipal force were a relatively easy feat, there would be more of them in the province and fewer areas covered by the OPP.
“Starting from scratch is a massive, massive undertaking,” Moffatt said.
Algonquin Highlands Deputy-reeve Liz Danielsen thought the county should stick to lobbying the province, saying that if the proverbial horse was out of the barn when it came to the billing formula, the horse was still in the corral.
Council voted to defer any decision on the creation of a local force and along with its submission to the ombudsman's office, to continue to lobby the province for changes to the formula.